Council set to discuss Huerta case Monday
The City Council will discuss the Jesus Huerta case Monday evening in a special closed-door meeting, officials say.
City clerks on Friday emailed notices of the meeting that billed it as one being called for “attorney-client consultation.”
But City Manager Tom Bonfield confirmed that the request for the 5:30 p.m. meeting came from his office and that the topic of discussion will be the Huerta case.
Huerta, who was 17, died in police custody on Nov. 19. He suffered what Police Chief Jose Lopez has said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser outside the Police Department headquarters.
The incident has sparked widespread criticism of the department, which intensified before the holidays after officers on Dec. 19 used tear gas to break up a pro-Huerta demonstration at downtown at CCB Plaza.
Many of the complaints the council received after the December demonstration called for the firing of Lopez.
Mayor Bill Bell and Councilman Steve Schewel in the aftermath of the demonstration said the department needs to release what it knows about the case, whether or not the State Bureau of Investigation’s review of it is complete.
Police picked up Huerta at the behest of his family, after he left home following some sort of argument.
Officer Samuel Duncan, a rookie officer who joined the force in July 2012, was taking him to headquarters when the youth died. He jumped out of the still-moving patrol car “for fear of being shot,” Lopez said last month.
Critics of the department have said police are responsible for Huerta’s death even if the wound was self-inflicted, as such a wound would indicate that Duncan didn’t search him properly or make sure there wasn’t a weapon available to anyone sitting in the car’s back seat.
Even given a desire by the council to release of information on the case, state law would give members and City Attorney Patrick Baker plenty to talk about beforehand.
The records of criminal investigations begun to solve violations of the law aren’t public in North Carolina, subject to release “by order of a court,” the state’s Public Records Law says.
Employee personnel and disciplinary records are likewise confidential, though the city manager “with concurrence of the council” can release them if they certify in writing that “the release is essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services or to maintaining the level and quality of city services.”